23 December 2021
For years, Israel has been holding Palestinians from the oPt in incarceration facilities inside its borders, contrary to the international law prohibition on the transfer of protected persons outside the occupied country. Incarceration inside Israel causes a severe violation of the right to family life of both the inmates and their loved-ones, and it has been further aggravated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On December 21, 2021, HaMoked together with Al Mezan Center for Human Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to demand the Minister of Public Security and the Israel Prison Service (IPS) put an end to the complete isolation of Palestinian inmates from the Gaza Strip incarcerated inside Israel. The petitioners requested the court to compel the renewal of family visits for all Gaza inmates, which were suspended following the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020 (Gaza inmates associated with Hamas have been denied visits since 2017 as part of Israel’s sanctions on the Gaza Strip). Alternatively, the petitioners requested yet again that the inmates be allowed regular phone contact with their relatives as a substitute to visits (as inmates classified as “security inmates” are generally denied all phone contact with the outside world).
The petitioners noted that throughout the years Israel had justified the sweeping ban on phone contact by claiming that family visits took place regularly. But under the current visit freeze, this justification no longer stands and the situation of a complete and prolonged lack of contact between inmates and their closest relatives – parents, siblings, spouses and children – does not meet the tests of proportionality. The petitioners noted that the Covid-19 emergency regulations prohibiting entry of visitors to prisons had expired months before and that following the progress in the vaccination endeavors in Israel and the oPt, prison visits, including to some 4,000 Palestinian inmates clasified as "security inmates", had been renewed, initially for relatives who are Israeli residents and from July 2021 for visitors from the West Bank. HaMoked added that the number of people entering Israel from Gaza and the West Bank had been steadily increasing. This, subject to the October 2021 Procedure for Logging Coronavirus [Entry] Preclusions, intended to prevent the entry of individuals from the oPt who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or require quarantine.
All this clearly indicated, wrote the petitioners, that the continued ban on family visits from Gaza was unjust, discriminatory and disproportionately harmful. The resultant harm outweighed the professed benefits to public health, which could be achieved without such needless harm by implementing the new procedure to this group of visitors as well. Despite this obvious solution, the freeze on visits has been maintained for some 21 months now (and for Hamas inmates, for much longer), without respite. The organizations clarified that this was a severe violation of the right to family life of hundreds of people, and that it was accompanied by violations to the inmates’ rights to adequate legal representation and adequate medical treatment, the realization of which often depended on assistance from the family.
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